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Giving Negative Restaurant Feedback


winegeek
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Since my article is the subject of this thread, I thought it was time to pipe in and clarify a few things:

I don’t stomp on tables for attention -- I usually do the cha-cha, but only after many tequilas and never while I’m working.

I'm not a food-industry insider – although in a previous life, I did do time at more than a dozen restaurants on three continents.

I don’t claim to be a food geek – I write from the view of the average customer; this one having had the good fortune to consume many extraordinary meals in her life.

Food geeks account for only a tiny percentage of the people who read my column – which is why I sometimes contextualize it with broader themes (culinary web sites) and feature elements (dialogue – how novel!).

I have the strong suspicion that my writing voice annoys some people – but it has kept me employed at Canada’s most prestigious national newspaper for almost a decade and did earn me a National Newspaper Award nomination last year (so I’m not going to go changing).

I still think tuna melts should only ever be prepared in an Easy Bake oven, but I applaud Chef Fowke for sticking to his guns (even if I believe he could do much better).

I’d say the same thing to Chef Fowke – but I’ve never had the opportunity to meet him, certainly not tableside during my dinner at Rare, which has been erroneously reported in this forum.

The review wasn’t a total trashing – my dining companion that night actually thought I was being kind.

In the world of professional journalism, judicious silence is not an option. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Can you imagine a big, blank editorial page during a political election? “Oh, we don’t like this candidate so we’re just not going to take any position.” Hmm. Doesn’t quite work that way, does it?

I really do like Ling (or what I’ve read from her posts).

The milquetoast reviews on the eGullet Vancouver/Western Canada forum -- I'm not referring to other regions -- are merely a symptom of a larger problem in this rather small town: see evite attached below. This is an invitation for a free dinner that was sent to all of Vancouver’s food critics, to which I was replying in a private email posted by someone else somewhere up above in this thread.

Cheers,

Alexandra Gill

The Globe and Mail

An invitation to dine at RARE this April

RARE one restaurant

1355 Hornby Street, Downtown False Creek

Executive Chef/Proprietor Brian Fowke and Restaurant Director /Proprietor Tim Keller, along with Chef Quang Dang and the staff of Rare, invite you to dine with them this April.

RARE one restaurant is a new concept in Vancouver dining. One where you get just what you were looking for! Rare is about letting you make the choice about how you eat. The upper portion of the restaurant offers modern renditions of classic libations; hand pressed and muddled, small tasters and more casual dining; oysters and prime grade striploin by the ounce. Menu items are available in half portions, priced at half price. The main dining room offers superb cuisine and just the thing you were looking for after an event. Summers will see a small urban courtyard patio off the back of the restaurant and front windows thrown open once the rush hour traffic dies down.

Tim is sourcing rare and unusual wines; Quang works with Brian to perfect rare cooking techniques and serve the very freshest fish, oysters and seafood, whenever possible using only sustainable and wild stocks and local and regional ingredients. A la carte, Tasting and Seasonal menus will ensure the menu changes to meet the needs of the season and the local regulars, and from the kitchen, food perfectly cooked, sauced and served by knowledgeable, warm staff.

Tim and Brian invite you to dine as their guest, with a companion of your choice, on any night in April. Please call ahead for a reservation or book your table on www.rarevancouver.com and link to opentable.com

RARE one restaurant

Open 5 nights a week - Tuesday through Saturday 5:00pm - 11:00pm

1355 Hornby Street (between Pacific and Drake)

Downtown False Creek, Vancouver, BC V6Z 1W7

604-669-1256 – Valet parking in effect

www.rarevancouver.com

Contacts:

Executive Chef Brian Fowke brian@rarevancouver.com

Restaurant Director Tim Keller tim@rarevancouver.com

Chef Quang Dang chef@rarevancouver.com

Publicist, Cate Simpson simpsoncpr@telus.net

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Wow... well heh.... thanks for joining in on the conversation. Definitely good to get the point of view from the horse’s mouth (so to speak :biggrin: )

Prior to reading this last post I was going to add a link to the infamous DOV 2005 Irish Heather thread (yah, just in case anyone missed it :wink: )....

And I still will because I think it exemplifies how / why / we don't / post as honestly as we might. Not to be too Vancouver centric but I do believe that the IH DOV thread single-handedly changed the tone of the Vancouver forum. For better ~ for worse.... whose to say.

In the meantime.... I am glad that we have this thread to discuss disparities..... hopefully at the end of the day, we can all agree to disagree as we all have our own tastes. Thanks for adding your 2 cents Alex.

Edited by appreciator (log)

sarah

Always take a good look at what you're about to eat. It's not so important to know what it is, but it's critical to know what it was. --Unknown

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I'm not a food-industry insider – although in a previous life, I did do time at more than a dozen restaurants on three continents.
Sounds interesting, love to hear where.
I don’t claim to be a food geek – I write from the view of the average customer; this one having had the good fortune to consume many extraordinary meals in her life.
Perhaps a bit contradictory unless these were all exceptional meals that you paid for whilst dining out? If so, rather unusual for the average customer.
Food geeks account for only a tiny percentage of the people who read my column – which is why I sometimes contextualize it with broader themes (culinary web sites) and feature elements (dialogue – how novel!).
Does one have to be a food geek to appreciate good reviews, explore the internet and find good recommendations for dining?
I have the strong suspicion that my writing voice annoys some people – but it has kept me employed at Canada’s most prestigious national newspaper for almost a decade and did earn me a National Newspaper Award nomination last year (so I’m not going to go changing).
:unsure::blink:
I still think tuna melts should only ever be prepared in an Easy Bake oven, but I applaud Chef Fowke for sticking to his guns (even if I believe he could do much better).
As an average food geek/customer/earthling that requires food to survive, the Tuna Melts I ate were never, ever prepared in an Easy Bake oven. Basically, you are insulting an era that produced many of us who are now able to possibly afford the cuisines that you write about. I highly doubt however that "Easy Bake Oven Tuna Melt" would be anywhere similiar to the Rare article.
I’d say the same thing to Chef Fowke – but I’ve never had the opportunity to meet him, certainly not tableside during my dinner at Rare, which has been erroneously reported in this forum.

PM is an option

The review wasn’t a total trashing – my dining companion that night actually thought I was being kind.

If your reveiw wasn't a total trashing, then why did you hold back? Be honest, because now, you've just left us wondering what "R" didn't like, and why you didn't report the whole truth of the experience.

In the world of professional journalism, judicious silence is not an option. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
You know what, if you could report on politics as openly and honestly as you claim to on the dining experiences in our
rather small town
you might garner some interest.
Can you imagine a big, blank editorial page during a political election? “Oh, we don’t like this candidate so we’re just not going to take any position.” Hmm. Doesn’t quite work that way, does it
Restaurant review vs political election. :hmmm::biggrin:

"If cookin' with tabasco makes me white trash, I don't wanna be recycled."

courtesy of jsolomon

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Since my article is the subject of this thread, I thought it was time to pipe in and clarify a few things:
This thread was started because in your review of Rare you questioned the ability of eGullet members to post negative reviews, in particular in the Vancouver/Western Canada Forum. winegeek wanted to discuss that idea further. Your review may have been the catalyst Ms. Gill, but it ain't the subject.
The review wasn’t a total trashing – my dining companion that night actually thought I was being kind.
You see ... this is the kind of back-handed comment you make that really taints your writing. You might call it style - I call it pissy. Don't get me wrong ... a negative review is fine. While my experience at Rare did not reflect yours, I support 100% your right and your obligation to report what you feel was your experience. I believe your meal at Rare was as you described it. It's just the nasty shit ... it might work for Dose, but until you came along I thought it was beneath the G&M.
I really do like Ling (or what I’ve read from her posts).
This is my beef with your review ... I'm still waiting for a reason why eGullet (ling, Zuke, et al) were dragged into this.
The milquetoast reviews on the eGullet Vancouver/Western Canada forum -- I'm not referring to other regions -- are merely a symptom of a larger problem in this rather small town: see evite attached below. This is an invitation for a free dinner that was sent to all of Vancouver’s food critics, to which I was replying in a private email posted by someone else somewhere up above in this thread.
I'm still trying to draw a connection between the two. How do milquetoast reviews on eGullet (hey, we're not professional-journalists here) and a new restaurant sending an invitation to you have anything to do with each other. Sorry, I may be obtuse here, but just what is the "problem in this rather small town"?

Thanks for chiming in. Kinda strange isn't it ... the reviewer being reviewed? :wink:

A.

edited to play nice

Edited by Daddy-A (log)
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I'm still trying to draw a connection between the two.  How do milquetoast reviews on eGullet (hey, we're not professional-journalists here) and a new restaurant sending an invitation to you have anything to do with each other.  Sorry, I may be obtuse here, but just what is the "problem in this rather small town"?

If an outsider can presumptuous enough to comment, I think the implication is that in a "rather small town" the food scene tends to be much tighter, and people tend to know each other more. I live in a very big town, and you don't see much "clubiness" on my town's board here. Customers tend not to know restauranteurs (at least not to the extent it appears on your board). Although some industry professionals participate on my town's board, they consitute a tiny and --no offense intended to any of them -- fairly insigificant portion of the local industry. Some people seem to get invited to events like the one you describe, but in a town this big it can't be most of us, and so for the most part most board participants seem to have no relationship with the local food industry and its members beyond being consumers (at most, most of us attain "regular" status at a few places). The reviews aren't terribly affected by any desire not to offend fellow members of the "community" because for the most part consumers don't seem to feel as if they're in a "community" with the food services providers. It seems different in Vanouver, and one can only postulate that the size of the town has something to do with it.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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I have the strong suspicion that my writing voice annoys some people – but it has kept me employed at Canada’s most prestigious national newspaper for almost a decade and did earn me a National Newspaper Award nomination last year (so I’m not going to go changing). 

Do you see how people could find it absurd that Canada's most prestigious National Newspaper is so caught up with an online food website.. In lowering your own papers "prestige" you have really elevated Egullet's status. Why read your papers food section, cut out the middle man and go to Egullet.. After all you are here too..

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I am a little confused. Is a population of 2 million considered a small town?

Vancouver is the third largest city in Canada.

Swisskaese,

It's a case of six degrees of separation, being more like three or four here. My cousin may be your waiter. :wink:

"I used to be Snow White, but I drifted."

--Mae West

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I could see how old media critics, accustomed to being able to preach from on high without challenge, could find the internet disconcerting: those they criticize now have the ability to respond. The urge to portray new media as frivolous and petty must be strong.

For their part, I hope the folks in the Vancouver contingent are now seeing how their clubbiness can erode their credibility. More objectivity and fewer agendas would go a long way towards righting that balance.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The urge to portray new media as frivolous and petty must be strong.

Honestly, I wonder if this story is really news worthy.. I think there is a story in here somewhere.. The fact that a reviewer attacked reviewers online.. I could see this as the opening for a great article on the affect that blogs have.. "Even Canada's most prestigious newspaper gets there inspiration from online communities".. We are buzzing around there head..

Edited by Daniel (log)
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For their part, I hope the folks in the Vancouver contingent are now seeing how their clubbiness can erode their credibility. More objectivity and fewer agendas would go a long way towards righting that balance.

I don't think the average diner on the Vancouver forum pursues an agenda- certainly there are a few professionals who use the site to shill- but most do not and certainly the chef in this case is and has been an active member with much to say of interest outside of the Rare adventure. To me it is natural that a long standing and valued member of the eG community is going to get some encouragement. When I go to the Pastry thread, I see the same kind of encouragement go out to those starting a new business, by both fellow professionals and enthusiasts- so aren't we all to some degree a little clubby?

Maybe I try to frame criticism gently and/or withhold it in some cases because I don't confuse my right to express an opinion with my right to be offensive- admittedly a widespread malady. Certainly I do have the right to be offensive, but I must also realize, to quote Lou Reed, that "spitting in the wind, it comes back twice as hard".

Anyone who has taken Critical Thinking 101 knows that an ad hominem attack leads to a fallacious argument. The real issue in credibility comes when egulleters (including Gillster) attack personally rather than framing their opinions in a reasoned way. I think that this will go much further to undermine our credibility as a community than the occasional overenthusiasm. Look at how A. Gill's has been questioned.

With Respect,

Ann

Edited for formatting

Edited by annanstee (log)

The sea was angry that day my friends... like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.

George Costanza

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For their part, I hope the folks in the Vancouver contingent are now seeing how their clubbiness can erode their credibility. More objectivity and fewer agendas would go a long way towards righting that balance.

I don't think the average diner on the Vancouver forum pursues an agenda- certainly there are a few professionals who use the site to shill- but most do not and certainly the chef in this case is and has been an active member with much to say of interest outside of the Rare adventure. To me it is natural that a long standing and valued member of the eG community is going to get some encouragement.

Well stated Ann.

I'd also like to ask how we are supposed to avoid this situation in the future? Refuse membership to chefs or restaurant owners? eGullet has created this "monster" by becoming one of the premiere internet sources. How it evolved in our little corner of the world is hardly our fault.

A.

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For their part, I hope the folks in the Vancouver contingent are now seeing how their clubbiness can erode their credibility. More objectivity and fewer agendas would go a long way towards righting that balance.

Perhaps the real "problem" (as some see it) is that people put too much stock in so-called "reviews" as written on the Gullet or on any of the dozens of online food related websites. The fact of the matter is that a very small percentage of the writers on eG are professional writers, and even then only a percentage of those writers are what I would call restaurant "critics". I am not a restaurant critic, I have no aspiration to be one. Critics have a specific job to do under specific guidelines. eGullet is not the Globe and Mail, The New York Times, etc. and we are not employees of the Gullet.

As with any critic, read an eG member's posts long enough and you will develop a sense of that member. From that, and only from that, one can use that sense to discern whether or not the opinions of that member will jibe with one's own personal opinions - and one can decide whether to take the member's advice and go try a meal at the same restaurant, or not.

"Agendas", "credibility" - seriously?

It is not life or death, it is not even Liberal or Conservative, it is food. I love food, sure - otherwise I would not be here. And I am thankful for the virtual world of eGullet because it is where I have found some people who share my love of food, and some of those people have become very real friends in very real life. And I hope that we can all remember that the best part of a meal is the company shared, rather than the foie served.

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And I hope that we can all remember that the best part of a meal is the company shared, rather than the foie served.

That is what mama always taught me :wink:

The sea was angry that day my friends... like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.

George Costanza

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With respect to the Vancouver Forum, for most of the regular diners, there certainly is not an agenda, and to say there is, quite frankly I find insulting. The Vancouver board has a much higher number of Professionals actively posting than what I have seen elsewhere on the site. We are a very friendly group, and if that makes us clubbish, so be it. I am very dissappointed that this is how upper management views a forum that I have actively been a part of for almost 2 years. Actually, it's quite sad. Vancouver has a very vibrant food community and it would be nice to share it with the world, but if to do that, we come across as being "clubby" or having an agenda, then what's the point.

Those of us that are just regular diners have never claimed to be critics. This site is for stating your opinion, your views, what you tasted. It's all very subjective and I think that should be kept in mind.

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With respect to the Vancouver Forum, for most of the regular diners, there certainly is not an agenda, and to say there is, quite frankly I find insulting.  The Vancouver board has a much higher number of Professionals actively posting than what I have seen elsewhere on the site.  We are a very friendly group, and if that makes us clubbish, so be it.  I am very dissappointed that this is how upper management views a forum that I have actively been a part of for almost 2 years.  Actually, it's quite sad.  Vancouver has a very vibrant food community and it would be nice to share it with the world, but if to do that, we come across as being "clubby" or having an agenda, then what's the point. 

As a Vancouver outsider who recently posted for the first time on that board for help, I have to say that I did not feel the clique vibe everyone is talking about. Sure, I've read the Burger Club posts and the Rare posts, but the feeling I got from these topics was that everyone who wanted to participate was welcome to do so. I have thoroughly been welcomed and embraced on the BC board and have gotten several PM's from people offering even more help.

"Many people believe the names of In 'n Out and Steak 'n Shake perfectly describe the contrast in bedroom techniques between the coast and the heartland." ~Roger Ebert

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Friendliness is fine -- in fact, civility is very much encouraged, as is pride in community. It becomes a problem when friendship clouds judgement, or renders you unable to deliver an honest report on your dining experiences. When Fat Guy points out that the price of friendliness is decreased credibility, he's only encapsulating what Arne said earlier:

If I say something good about a restaurant, I'll get accused of shilling. If I say something bad about a restaurant, I'll get accused of trashing. Pretty soon, members are protecting their POV for fear that if someone disagrees with them (heaven forbid!) it somehow devalues that opinion. In Vancouver, this has been complicated by the social apsect. Friends now protect friends. It all becomes so personal.

You're free to post nothing but positive things about the restaurants you visit, of course. But a good friend (and for that matter, a good member) is honest. If your best buddy has BO, eventually you have to work up the courage to tell him, or accept that it's partly your fault that he can't get dates. In the meantime, the rest of your friends (and eventually everyone who knows both you and your buddy) will question your judgment on matters of scent.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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I'd also like to ask how we are supposed to avoid this situation in the future?  Refuse membership to chefs or restaurant owners?  eGullet has created this "monster" by becoming one of the premiere internet sources.  How it evolved in our little corner of the world is hardly our fault.

A.

I don't think the social or offline friendships have clouded people's judgements. But we have recognize that everyone involved with the Vancouver eG forum seems to have become much more leary of confrontation between members. Alot of these discourses go a long way in setting the tone and conduct of how critism is raised and resolved.

If an issue is raised by a diner, industry people should feel free to challenge and address those concerns. The diner should also be prepared to intelligently discuss his/her criticisms. The discussions can get messy - and you know what? - that should be okay. That's the nature of a forum that promotes free and open discussion. The real issues will be separated from the bullshit like wheat from chaffe on its own.

In the absence of real (impassioned, hot-headed, and god forbid - impolite) discourse - a vacuum has been filled with nicey nice chat. We don't call bullshit on eachother - we need to be allowed to call bullshit on eachother. And that is our collective fault.

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Hi Dave,

I would like some examples of when we, as diners, have shown clouded judgment in our forum.

I myself am not claiming that I or anyone should withhold our true opinions.

I am suggesting that part of having integrity is framing your argument in a way that is cogent and constructive. I am also suggesting that ad hominem attacks will both weaken your argument and invite return attacks- and that you should then be prepared to get as good as you give.

If we do "play nice" over on the board, it may be because the professionals over there have been known to rigorously defend their places of business, and we may not be in the mood to be dragged into a brouhaha. Then again, those are kind of fun too-though being a well brought up young lady, I usually prefer to watch from the stands. As Arne points out, many of these professionals are an integral part of our community- and we cannot exclude them because of what they do. Why would we?

It may also be that as this community evolves, people are more and more leery of being controversial, because of evolving editorial policies.

And yes, it is personal. Life is personal. And that is fine.

And you know what? I might tell my buddy if he has BO, but I may not tell him that his plaid and polka dot combo doesn't work for me and publicly shame him into wearing chino's and a button down instead. I will not assume he has never heard of button downs. I will continue to allow him to shop for his own clothes. It is, in your analogy, the difference between telling a chef about, say, a bad oyster, or that you don't think tuna melts are a combo that works for most, and telling him that if he continues to make tuna melts, you won't be held responsible for ensuing public flaying, and that you will make fun of all his friends, and his dog.

Edited for Dan Qualeyness.

Edited by annanstee (log)

The sea was angry that day my friends... like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.

George Costanza

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You're free to post nothing but positive things about the restaurants you visit, of course. But a good friend (and for that matter, a good member) is honest. If your best buddy has BO, eventually you have to work up the courage to tell him, or accept that it's partly your fault that he can't get dates. In the meantime, the rest of your friends (and eventually everyone who knows both you and your buddy) will question your judgment on matters of scent.

And you know what? I might tell my buddy if he has BO, but I may not tell him that his plaid and polka dot combo doesn't work for me and publicly shame him into wearing chino's and a button down instead.

That's about right - you would tell your buddy that he has BO in private. You probably would not tell your buddy he has BO on an internet board.

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You're free to post nothing but positive things about the restaurants you visit, of course. But a good friend (and for that matter, a good member) is honest. If your best buddy has BO, eventually you have to work up the courage to tell him, or accept that it's partly your fault that he can't get dates. In the meantime, the rest of your friends (and eventually everyone who knows both you and your buddy) will question your judgment on matters of scent.

And you know what? I might tell my buddy if he has BO, but I may not tell him that his plaid and polka dot combo doesn't work for me and publicly shame him into wearing chino's and a button down instead.

That's about right - you would tell your buddy that he has BO in private. You probably would not tell your buddy he has BO on an internet board.

yep. what you said.

The sea was angry that day my friends... like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.

George Costanza

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As someone who has absolutely no dog in this fight (I don't know the restaurant or any of the parties involved, nor will I ever) I would like to offer a perspective of what I expect from a professional restaurant reviewer. I've lived in places where the reviews were consistently excellent and those in which restaurant reviews were pretty awful. Ms. Gill's review was in the latter group and here's why.

I'm not a food-industry insider – although in a previous life, I did do time at more than a dozen restaurants on three continents.

Ms. Gill hints at her credentials as a professional restaurant critic. Professional reviewers of food, wine, music or art must be experts in their field. Either they received formal training at an established institution or they had extensive training "in the field." What exactly did she do at these restaurants that establish her credentials and expertise?

By expert, I mean someone who has the practical and academic background and knowledge to understand and appreciate what constitutes excellence in a particular area. But this is not enough and in fact, many excellent reviewers offer this knowlege sparingly in their reviews.

I don’t claim to be a food geek – I write from the view of the average customer; this one having had the good fortune to consume many extraordinary meals in her life.

Professional food and wine writers should be "super-tasters" and geeks in their field. The best food critics have a depth and breadth of knowledge that extend far beyond having had many extraordinary meals. They are passionate about knowing the history of the food and region, and delight in their ability to know what ingredients work best together and why. I know super-tasters who can consistently identify wines in blind tastings and who can identify most ingredients in dishes.

Now, IMO, one of the things that makes a critic great is their ability to also take on the perspective of the average customer and explain to that customer why the food is great or not so great. In other words, to take the customer by the hand and show them "This is why this tuna melt is so superior" and have the average customer say, "I get it." This ability is why I like Antique Road Show so much, and why Julia Child was so popular and why that nun (whose name I forget) who is an art critic is so fantastic.

I have the strong suspicion that my writing voice annoys some people – but it has kept me employed at Canada’s most prestigious national newspaper for almost a decade and did earn me a National Newspaper Award nomination last year (so I’m not going to go changing). 

So, it's the style (writing voice) rather than the substance (her expertise as a food critic) that keeps her employed. (I've only read the one review in question, so I don't know if it is typical of her style.)

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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